Mangalore Air Crash Tragic Fallout of Criminal Negligence



Mangalore: An Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft arriving from Dubai with 167 on board 2010 tragically crashed at Mangalore International Airport at 6.30 am today (22 May 2010). It is reported that the plane overshot the runway while landing and fell over a cliff resulting in this disastrous crash. Very few are known to have survived this horrific crash.This was no accident, but the direct result of deliberate failure of officials at the highest level in the Director General of Civil Aviation, Airports Authority of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Government of Karnataka for allowing this 2nd runway to be built in criminal negligence of applicable norms and standards. Such a strong charge is being made as the likelihood of this kind of a crash (the worst case scenario) was predicted. A series of Public Interest Litigations were fought by the Manglore based Environment Support Group (ESG) to stop the construction of this 2nd runway in Mangalore airport on grounds that the design simply did not conform to the most basic national and international standards of airport design. The PILs also highlighted that the airport does not conform with the most minimum safeguards for emergency situations – particularly during landings and takeoffs, and could not have emergency approach roads within a kilometre on all sides of the airport as required.

It is truly sad that because of the failure of key decision makers at the highest levels so many innocent lives have been lost. It is quite possible that many lives were lost as emergency rescue teams could not access the crash site due to the difficult terrain (a valley) for over a hour after the incident, even though it was proximal to the site.

Vimana Nildana Vistharana Virodhi Samithi (Local Communities Alliance Against Airport Expansion), Bajpe and Environment Support Group had repeatedly highlighted the high risk expansion of the Mangalore airport during the late 1990s. The expansion was proposed to enable flight movements of wide bodied aircrafts, such as Airbus A 320. Authorities were repeatedly informed that the proposal did not at all conform with the standards prescribed for runway design as laid down by the Director General of Civil Aviation, National Building Code of India and Ministry of Civil Aviation. Further, considering that the airport was proposed for international flights, a case was also made that the 2ndrunway could not conform with International Civil Aviation Authority standards due to terrain limitations.

No one in authority cared to listen to our fervent pleas. This even when we demonstrated through a variety of representations that that the site chosen for expansion at Bajpe was surrounded by deep valleys on three sides of the runway and did not provide for emergency landing areas as required.

This neglect forced ESG to move the High Court of Karnataka in a PIL in 1997 (Arthur Pereira and ors. vs. Union of India and ors., WP No. 37681/1997). A key concern raised was that the 2nd runway in Mangalore could not meet the standards required in dealing with an emergency, particularly during landings and takeoffs – a time when air crashes are most likely to happen.

The Airports Authority of India filed an affidavit in Court dismissing all our concerns and stated this, amongst other things:

“It is submitted that as regards the apprehensions of the petitioner that the Length and width of the runway is insufficient for a plane making an emergency landing, the same is without any basis. It is respectfully submitted that all the requirements as per the ICAO recommendation will be met and that there has been no infringement of any of the recommendation and limitation therein.”

On the basis of this affidavit, Hon’ble Chief Justice Mr. Y. Bhaskar Rao and the Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. M. Farooq (as their Lordships then were) dismissed this PIL.

Even though alternative sites existed, the authorities proceeded obstinately to expand the airport yielding to pressures from business, real estate and hotel lobbies who benefited immensely from an airport at Bajpe. Politicians keen to make the expansion a part of their legacy overlooked all concerns raised. Even at the existing Bajpe alternative sites existed to expand the airport, that conformed with most safety norms, but this site was not pursued as it would affect large landholders and influential people. Consequently, nothing whatsoever was done to respond to the concerns ESG raised about the risks involved in the 2nd runway.

On 8th March 2004, ESG wrote to Dr. Naseem Zaidi, Chairman (Addl. Charge) & Joint Secretary, Airport Authority of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, reminding him of the need to comply with the Supreme Court direction. In particular ESG highlighted that “such action would jeopardize passenger safety, put local communities to risk, needlessly dislocate people by acquiring land on a location that in no way could comply with the said provisions and thereby contributed to gross wastage of public money and resources.” ESG did not get any response.

Six years later today we are mourning the unfortunate death of so many people who should have been alive. We are clear that this is no accident, but a direct result of the series of deliberate failures of officials and key decision makers at the highest levels of all authorities connected with the decision to allow the 2nd runway to be constructed and commissioned. Of course all sorts of explanations will be on offer, but none of that can bring lost lives back or cure the tragedy that has wrongly befallen so many families.

India today is frenetically building airports all over, and for all sorts of flaky reasons. Such is the political, bureaucratic and corporate pressure to build and expand airports that anyone questing the rationale is quickly dubbed as a “busybody”, “useless interloper”, “promoted by vested interest” and raising “frivolous” concerns.

ESG demands the Union Minister of Civil Aviation to orders an impartial Commission of Enquiry into the causative factors of this crash, especially investigating the absolute lack of conformance with basic runway design standards and emergency approach measures.


4 Responses

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  1. Venkatesh P. Dalwai said, on May 22, 2010 at 22:08

    It is very unfortunate incident. Enquiry will only give reason of act of god without attributing anything to any one. However activists must re-open the PIL in Karnataka HC and request for investigation about complaince with rigid national & international standerds for Runways in Bajpe to fix the accountablity.

  2. b .s manjunath said, on May 23, 2010 at 11:35

    The larger issue is should we allow further the table top runways. The risk in future is apparent and visible to naked eyes. There is no need to take such risk in future and alternatives be worked out. Let learning not be by paying in terms of human life.

  3. vijay said, on May 23, 2010 at 12:20


    You have made out a very good case of Criminal Negligence and should proceed to prosecute the false Affidavit filed in Delhi HC against yr PIL further finde out ICAI recommendations were followed or not as affirmed.Also whether these recommendations were up to Global Standards or not??
    Also bring these facts to the notice of International flight Operators who may boycott calling at this Airport. Go global to tackle these Indian Rskals(Kumbhkarans). 160 lives is not a small price paid by innocents and hope and wish it will not go waste.

  4. T.Devidas said, on May 28, 2010 at 17:17

    I had already read the two writ petitions earlier filed in Karnataka High Court and had come to the conclusion that the several public servants concerned, including judges, had acted in disregard of the directions of APPLICABLE LAW and COMMITTED SEVERAL OFFENCES UNDER the IPC. Sections 166,167,177,181, 182, 191,192,and 193 would all invite attention.
    It will be a good idea if on behalf of all those who died in the air crash a PIL petition is filed seeking the prosecution and punishment of all the officers who
    were duty bound to ensure compliance with the law and who have failed, including judges of the High Court and Supreme Court who failed to give the protection of Art 14 by not ensuring compliance with the applicable laws as required by the Constitution despite the compulsion of Art 14 to do so. There is no discretion in the matter of Art 14 as regards equal protection of the laws.This is made clear by Art 256.
    The needless loss of lives should be turned into an opportunity to compel judges to act strictly according to law as required by Art.14 read with Sec 57(1)of the Indian Evidence Act. Had the judges of the superior courts cared to respect Sec 57(1) and taken judicial notice of Articles 14,256,257,and 356(1)read with Art. 365 as they bear on executive power,the tragedy would not have occurred.
    The rule of law needs to be established against judges who will then learn to respect Art.14. Art. 214 is for removal only. There is no immunity for judges against crimes and the sections noticed above do not require any intention.Knowledge of likelihood of injury as defined by Sec 44 IPC suffices. No ‘good faith’ escape will be possible.

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